“Newcombe is a Gen Y Harbinger of Doom…or Change.”
So reads University student Newcombe Clark’s official Facebook campaign page, as he competes for a spot representing Ward 5 on the Ann Arbor City Council.
The 29-year-old Ann Arbor native explained in an interview on Monday that the campaign slogan is part of an unconventional approach he’s using to try and connect with his audience.
“I like to engage people and not put them to sleep when I talk about, say, pension fund negotiations,” Clark said.
A graduate student at the Ross School of Business, Clark, who also received his undergraduate degree from the University, is running as an independent in the upcoming Nov. 2nd elections. His campaign is built around what he calls “open source government” — getting the general city population directly involved in the city council’s decision-making process.
Clark said he considers his youthful age an advantage in getting more students to participate in local politics.
“I’m not going to hide that I’m young,” Clark said.
But Clark isn’t the first student to vie for a spot on city council. In 2009, then-LSA senior Hatim Elhady ran an unsuccessful campaign to represent the student-heavy fourth ward. And in 2005, Eugene Kang, who is now a special assistant to President Barack Obama, was defeated in his bid to be elected to represent Ward 2.
Clark’s ad campaign features a poster he describes as “a cross between a dustbowl-era traveling circus and a Russian theater from the Victorian age.” The unconventional poster, according to Clark, serves as a reminder that he’s not a typical candidate.
In fact, as Clark pointed out throughout the interview, he has no interest in a long-term political future and, if elected, plans to only serve on the city council for a single 2-year term.
With this self-imposed constraint, Clark said he’ll have more freedom to take risks than other council members who are seeking reelection.
“With not worrying if I’m going to be reelected, I’m not going to hold back,” Clark said. “I don’t want to be a council member. I just want to do things.”
An experienced real estate developer, Clark is also a member of Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Agency, and has worked on several housing related projects within the city.
Near the top of Clark’s to-do list if he’s elected is working to generate a better set of citywide house-fire prevention measures than the ones currently in place.
But Clark said he is adamantly opposed to the so-called “porch couch ban” currently facing city council. The proposed ordinance would prohibit the placement of upholstered furniture on porches citywide. It was introduced by Council member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 2) after an April house fire believed to have been started by a porch couch killed former Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters.
According to Clark, the ordinance, which city council plans to vote on at its Sep. 20 meeting, doesn’t address the issue of fire prevention comprehensively enough to effectively prevent house fires.
“Let’s solve the problem of low response times, or blocked exits before we say the couches are the problem,” Clark said.
If elected, Clark said he plans to deal with issues through his “open source” website, where he said constituents will be able to post feedback and offer suggestions on issues facing the city council.
“Don’t make (voters) lobby you through some nine-hour bitchfest,” he said. “Make it easy for them.”
In the weeks leading up to the November elections, Clark said he plans to personally reach out to the student-heavy sectors of the fifth ward. Clark said council members rely on students not voting — something he hopes to change with his campaign.
“I walk home through that neighborhood everyday after class and there’s hundreds of kids sitting on their porch,” Clark said. “I worry…they’re completely discounted.”